A diverse group of children’s media creators — from authors to television show writers — were featured on a panel titled “The Importance of Diversity in Children’s Media” at Wallis Annenberg Hall Wednesday. The event was presented by the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in partnership with the Children’s Media Association of Los Angeles.
Moderator Kirk Damato, a former member of BuzzFeed’s Diversity Council, asked panel members about their journeys to success in the entertainment industry. Chris Nee, creator and executive producer of Disney Channel series “Doc McStuffins” said she was motivated to go into television because of the industry’s lack of representation.
“I grew up not seeing myself,” Nee said. “And guess what? I still don’t see myself on TV. At the time when I was bringing ‘Doc McStuffins’ to the screen, I still knew that it was not a possibility for me at Disney to be talking about … my LGBTQ family. I made it a part of my mission to find ways to put a spotlight on communities that are not used to seeing themselves because I know how important that is.”
Doreen Spicer Donnelly, writer for Disney Channel sitcom “The Proud Family,” Disney Channel original movie “Jump In!” and novel “Love Double Dutch” said her creative process begins with her experiences and emotions.
“I didn’t think too hard about what the audience will like or understand,” Donnelly said. “Let me write my story and then people and kids will possibly resonate with it … I wasn’t sure how kids would take it, but I was with 65-plus fifth graders [before I came here tonight], and they all resonate with something.”
The panelists said kids seek entertainment that immediately excites and poses questions — like adults, children want to experience media that tackles interpersonal relationships and unlimited possibility. Educational programming does not necessarily require shows to teach children about reading and science, they said. Rather, a story about forgiveness or standing up to bullying can teach just as much as a history lesson.
“It’s a time to do something different,” Donnelly said. “We’ve seen the same stories over and over … Now that we’re adding new nuances and different cultures, and something that pops up out of the blue, kids are like, ‘Huh, I never knew that.’ It’s the adults that have a hard time accepting it.”
Damato also asked panel members about their experiences bringing diversity to the workplace, and what media companies could improve on in incorporating more inclusion.
“[We have to] bring in different creators,” Damato said. “Otherwise, the same stories will be told to the same audiences, and a lot of people will be left out.”
Nee spoke about her entrance into the world of television production and recalled how animation was not considered a viable career for people who did not fit the predetermined mold of being white and male.
“Twenty years ago when I was moving to L.A., I remember actually looking at the credits to see if women were doing animation,” Nee said. “Now, I’m too much of an asshole to not come when I didn’t see any women … I came anyway, but we have to know that we are showing an open door.”
Children’s book author Lisa Yee has written over 20 children’s books including “Millicent Min Girl Genius” and the “DC Superhero Girls” series. Yee said she does not limit her imagination when writing for a younger audience because she believes that kids are capable of resonating with emotions that all humans feel.
“I think that we need to see more of ourselves and more of the other people who are out there who are different,” Yee said. “When I wrote [‘Millicent Min Girl Genius’] I did not have a political agenda or anything like that. I want to write these stories.”
Silvia Cardenas Olivas, co-executive producer and head writer for television series “Maya and the Three” and story editor for “Elena of Avalor,” maintains that in order for a scene to strike viewers, it first has to strike the author.
“Your best stories happen when your eyes are watery, your voice is shaky and your face is red,” Cardenas Olivas said. “And unless you can open up and write about all this you’re not going to connect … Be vulnerable, it’s OK.”
In closing, Damato expressed optimism for the future of media due to the panelists’ efforts in content creation for children.
“We’re planting seeds, but I think the trees can grow faster than they used to,” he said. “The landscape in five years is going to be different, [so is] the landscape in 10 years. What a bright 2029.”